How TrackMan data and technology are bringing science to the art of golf

Step onto the range at any PGA Tour event and you'll see a little orange box set up behind most players.

That's TrackMan, a mobile data collection tool that allows golfers to gather shot information -- like distance, ball flight, spin rate and much more -- in real time. It's changing the game dramatically, especially with how it allows for even more customization with club and ball technology.

CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch explained how players can get a ball cover customized to their swing and specs.

"A friend of mine on Tour was talking about how he finally figured his game out and he works very hard on the TrackMan, but he still wasn't getting the right results," said Baker-Finch. "So he talked to the ball company and the ball company said, 'We'll just make you a different cover.' So they made him a different cover and now he's figured out the spin rate just by changing ball."

PGA Tour players aren't playing the same golf ball you pick up at the local pro shop. Even if you play the newest, top-of-the-line ball that runs nearly $50 per dozen, it's not the same as the one your favorite player is teeing up. The main components are the same, but the covers used by PGA Tour pros are tailored to their needs.

"They do [make different custom covers for the Tour guys]," said Baker-Finch. "Then they obviously clear it with the USGA or whatever, and they'll call it the black or the double diamond or the double star or the triple star and there'll be all of the different names. Like Callaway has the new Chrome Soft, and the label is so great now and so strong and it's 15 yards longer. So everyone loves it, from my wife all the way to the guys on Tour. But my wife would be using the standard Chrome Soft that you buy in the red box over the counter, but the guys on Tour might have the black, the star, the plus, the double star, whatever. There's 10 different Chrome Softs and Titleist and everyone else does the same."

All of this is part of a new era of golf that's melding the art of golf with science and data. The late 1990s and early 2000s were the real beginnings of this era, as custom club-fitting really took off and club and ball technology began to make huge strides. Now, players can get better dialed in with what they need from that technology by knowing exactly what their swing needs thanks to TrackMan. That combination is creating a better, more consistent golfer.

"More information, better information. That's what it's all about," said Baker-Finch. "The big thing is, the golf ball has been out of control for 15 years now. But now they can match up spin rates with shaft flexes with lofts with the technology available now to these players. They all know so much more than we ever dreamt of years ago. We did it with trial and error and hitting thousands of balls and when we signed a contract with a golf ball company, we had that ball for however long we signed the contract for. We didn't have 11 different covers made for us at the start of each season where they say, 'try these.'

"The science in golf is so extensive and so available to every player coming out now. So they can just maximize everything they need."

The golf ball has been a point of issue for a few years with many calling for the technology to be dialed back because of the combination of power and spin that players can get. The USGA and R&A said the increase in distance was not a concern in a published report after calls for further regulation of ball technology.

Distance isn't the only issue about the ball, though. Players now can be dialed in on every aspect of the game, knowing how their ball will react and, through customization by referring TrackMan data, they can now be even more proactive in getting a ball tailored to them.

They know exactly how much they spin the ball with certain clubs and certain swings, which lets them know exactly how it will react on the greens. Players also can now know the exact distances they hit wedges and irons with different swings. All of that shows in the scoring and stats today. Whether that's to the detriment of the game is up for argument and interpretation.

Is it really that bad to have guys shooting incredibly low scores and breaking records? Is it really a problem for them to have the technology to maximize every part of their game?

To me, it's not swapping artistry for science, it's amplifying the artistry with data that allows players to be as confident as possible on every shot.

Feel is still critical to the modern golfer, it's just that they now have data to equate that feel with an exact result, cutting back on the need for trial and error on the course.

CBS Sports Writer

Robby Kalland covers college football and golf for CBS Sports; he also dabbles in boxing, mixed martial arts and other sports. Prior to joining CBS in 2015, Robby spent time working for the Atlanta Hawks,... Full Bio

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